“Now therefore write this song and teach it to the people of Israel. Put it in their mouths, that this song may be a witness for me against the people of Israel. For when I have brought them into the land flowing with milk and honey, which I swore to give to their fathers, and they have eaten and are full and grown fat, they will turn to other gods and serve them, and despise me and break my covenant. And when many evils and troubles have come upon them, this song shall confront them as a witness (for it will live unforgotten in the mouths of their offspring). For I know what they are inclined to do even today, before I have brought them into the land that I swore to give.” Deuteronomy 31. 19-21.
Do I ever disappoint God? I disappoint myself all the time, but do I disappoint God? This morning’s reading tells me no, I do not, because God is not and never has been under any illusions about me. He has always known the yetser — the purpose, imagination, inclination — of my heart even though it might be hidden from me myself. He has watched me draw close to him in times of trouble and desperation then watched, without surprise, as I drift away from him once he has rescued and restored me. My downfalls and failures have appalled and shocked me but never him. He saw them coming and he has taken them in his stride.
And what thrills me about this passage today is the promise it holds for me that, even knowing the inclination of my heart and where it will lead me, the Lord is still determined to own me and to bless me. Even knowing the decades of apostasy and rejection that lie ahead, the Lord is still committed to Israel. “When I have brought them into the land flowing with milk and honey …” he says; not, “If I bring them into the land …”.
Had it been me looking down the centuries as the Lord was, and seeing the mess that Israel would make of her high calling, the betrayals of the covenant, her corruption, her perversions, I would probably have thought, “Why bother? What is the point of blessing these people or having them as my people at all?” In the days of Noah, God had seen that “every intention of the thoughts of [man’s] heart was only evil continually” (Genesis 6.5) and now, as he prepares to take Israel into the land of promise, he can see that it will not be long before it will be exactly the same again — even with this special, favoured, covenant people to whom so much is being given — but he still goes ahead.
The same truth meets me in the New Testament. It is, as the saying goes, like Father, like Son. I see Jesus choosing Judas though he knows the heart of Judas and knows he will end up betraying him (Matthew 26.25). And as the time for that betrayal and his subsequent arrest approaches, Jesus tells his disciples, “You will all fall away because of me this night” (Matthew 26.31). Peter’s response is indignant. “Though they all fall away because of you, I will never fall away,” he says; but Jesus knows the inclination of Peter’s heart better than Peter himself does. Jesus tells him: “Truly, I tell you, this very night, before the rooster crows, you will deny me three times” (Matthew 26.33). Sure enough, Peter does; and when he does, he goes out and weeps bitterly (Matthew 26.75). He has (to put it mildly) disappointed and surprised himself — but not Jesus. From the first, Jesus knew all the flaws and weaknesses and defects in Peter, but he chose him anyway — not for what he was but for what he would become. The Lord would work with and through the failure and defeat that he (but not Peter himself) could see coming.
And so, I do believe, it is with me. I might despair of myself, but Jesus does not despair of me. Though he knows the inclination of my heart and knows where it will lead me, he continues to bless me and work through me. He knows what I am, yes … but he also knows what, through his grace and mercy, I will become, and he obviously considers that to be worth all the love and care and time and patience he lavishes upon me. Thank you so much, Lord Jesus.